Affordable, Fun and Diverse Houston! - 11/28/2013
I moved around all over the world as a child and teen due to my father's employment. When we returned to the U.S., I went to college and graduate school in New York and Indiana. I've lived in Raleigh, North Carolina Chicago for work.
I settled in Houston and bought a home. I've been living here for 5 years, both in Montrose and in the outer loop. This is what I can tell you from Houston, from the perspective of someone who has traveled a lot: this city is a little too hot in the summer and there are insects that you will need repellant or chemical yard barriers for. BUT, it is also friendly, very green (lots of parks, huge trees and lakes - what a lot of people don't know about), has several good universities, is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the nation, is huge in the arts - theatre, music, art schools and venues/galleries. It has restaurants - including many vegetarian and vegan options - galore. It is a fun city and, very importantly, you won't have to settle for a four-story walk-up with no washer and dryer in the unit! You can be a homeowner here. Say good-bye to your slumlord. For singles, you'll find great nightlife, an active cycling and fitness scene. For families, you'll find free, accessible places to go with your kids. Too many activities to mention on any given weekend and the best children's museum in the country. Houston is an active, fun, very affordable city. You won't have to work to live. You'll work and still have time left over to enjoy this city. I LOVE HTOWN! Will never leave.
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A good fit for some, but not me - 9/3/2013
Houston has much to offer with it's Museum District, theatrical venues, great medical institutions, abundance of cheap food and easy winters. There are very nice neighborhoods, such as Montrose, Heights, Rice, Memorial Park--all in the 610 loop, but they are very expensive to buy into (even very modest homes with small yards), with property taxes well in excess of 3% of their values. I came to this town to escape the Midwestern winters and get better employment. The heat and humidity are formidable even for a hot weather person like myself and to be comfortable for the long summer means big electricity bills, but the winters are very easy to take. It feels tropical here for about 8 months out of the year and many plants are green all year long. Much medical research goes on as Houston is one of the leaders along those lines. The people tend to be friendlier than what I'm used to in the Midwest and the international flavor of the town is nice.
On the other hand... the traffic is super bad and Houston drivers are the worst I've ever seen, with accidents all the time. I've never seen a place with so many seedy neighborhoods pervasively scattered all over the huge metropolis. If you add up the attractive areas that include the Museum district, Heights, Montrose, Rice Village, Kirby, Memorial Park and Galleria you have about 20% of Houston. The rest of Houston is either mediocre or just plain trashy. In proportion to other large cities, it is a very ugly place built by planners and architects with horrible taste, guided by greed and ignorance in typical Texas fashion. Dogs run loose all over except the best neighborhoods, sometimes in packs and dogbites are very common here. If you can afford to live where you'd like there, it could be a good life. Even If I did get a better job there, it wouldn't pay well enough to finance a home in any neighborhood I'd want to live in that is less than 40 minutes from work. That ain't quality of life in my book.
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There's some good, but be aware of the negatives. - 3/1/2013
Now look, I am not some damn yankee that you provincial Texans claim that I am. In fact, I was born here in Houston. Yes, we all know that the benefits are a lack of blizzards in the winter, great theatre and museums, and lower cost of living. But there are several drawbacks living here.
The climate is hot and humid during the summer, even reaching triple digits, but of course, the climate is subjective. But the bugs and mosquitos are all over during summer months, and that is the most irritating part of humid weather, feeling that a mosquito will bite you any minute.
This is not what I would call a pedestrian friendly city. Only a few places such as Downtown, Montrose, and the few major city parks, are what I call walkable to the population. Otherwise, you sure as hell need a car, even going for a few blocks for groceries, going to convenience store, and such. Worse of all, there is a lack of decent public transportation for a city this size (Isn't it 2013 already?) as there is only one line of rail built and the other planned rails are either not built yet or built very sluggishly. People don't want expansion, I don't know why! (This is in contrast of the "can do" attitudes that the city claims, or at least used to claim)
Which brings me to traffic. Yes, sure, every major city has a rush hour. But Houston has the worst traffic in Texas (7th in America as of now), even worse than DFW (although you can't call Dallas a pedestrian mecca either). Despite widening freeways (especially IH-10), the traffic is still prevalent. It's even prevalent on non-peak hours and weekends especially since the suburbs have bumper-to-bumper traffic nowadays. I'm afraid it will get worse if METRO does not act now. Also the drivers can be aggressive and stupid(even more than in places like, say, Chicago). Big pickups doing 95 mph on the freeway like they own the road. I can go 80 mph on 59 and still be tailgated. I mean, what's wrong with these people? They can speed but not even follow basic traffic laws?
The people here, well, it's really a mix. Not exactly Southern Hospitality as you can find in places like Nashville. The people in Clear Lake area are laid back (at least to me), and the working class neighborhoods are fine. However, several neighborhoods, even the nice ones, are already growing in crime. One can point to the immigration to this area, but unfortunately, most of the crime is done by U.S.-born people (from shootings for sneakers, throwing babies in plastic bags, eating them, and crazy crimes you can think of. You thought that you were in Florida). It's sad considering that it wasn't that way (or that bad) when I lived in the 90s. Also the southern rap attitude can get really irritating, especially if rap is starting to welcome subpar artists that can only repeat a few words. Swangers? Please. Shocking that I also see non-gangster people (supposedly) wear these "Screwston"-type hats and even act gangster (having an affinity for the culture). The gangster culture can get old. Also, the suburbs (especially Cypress, Katy, The Woodlands, Spring) can be filled with the stereotypical, homogeneous, religious (holier than thou), racist, homophobic, Caucasian, Republican/Tea Party-voting, gun-toting, douchy Texans everyone loves to hate/make fun of (I mean Sarah Palin visited the Chick-Fil-A in the Woodlands and that gun control segment with Piers Morgan and Alex Jones took place in the Tactical Firearms in Katy-that crowd in the latter was full of angry white trash while the crowd in the former are filled with such drones). They make up a huge majority of the population (contrasting Houston's reputation for diversity), and rich does not eliminate these "white trash" attitudes, especially if you work for Big Oil. And do you wonder why there are a lack of minorities (not including white washed ones) in the Northside suburbs? Not places I recommend for newcomers; actually, move there so that we can drive these nuts out of the country. ;-)
But enough megachurches! Stop using religion for money, especially if you're Joel Osteen who decided to buy The Summit and turn it into your damn Lakewood Church. Wouldn't that money for the construction of these things (and the pastor's Escalade) go to somewhere else like charity and helping people out? Okay, it's opinion, but it's too tacky, especially if it's next to a sex shop thanks to the no zoning laws that exist in the city. But, no more megachurches; let them go to their nice community church if they want to where they actually care about Thy Neighbor.
The populace, at times, can act uneducated. Sure there are some great institutions of higher education such as Rice University and U of H, but the percentage of people with college-degrees seems to be low for a major metro area. Airheads, crackheads do exist. And the aforementioned people in the suburbs "don't need no education" as they can learn their thinking from Fox News. They even get their news from the likes of Rush Limbaugh! And they think that it is a normal thing to do so! Also they are obsessed with redneck classic rock music and that stupid Walton & Johnson show. That is sad considering KUHF, KUHT, and KPFT (Public Radio) has a good presence in the area (or at least the Inner Loop, another part I used to live in) and provides good information, programming, and intelligent conversation. It is true the people in the Inner Loop (University Place, Med Center, Bellaire) tend to be more educated, more liberal, and somewhat more diverse (I felt it at my old elementary school, Roberts Elementary), but the suburbs are filled with stereotypical hicks. I mean, Wow. Yes, I know they are not Houston city limits (but some suburban areas are annexed by Houston), but people live there in droves and cause traffic! It's good though that Houston does not have a problem electing the first openly gay mayor, Annise Parker. Hopefully, politically, the tide will turn (TX still has a long way to go to reach 50% Democratic, form 41%), and Texas will actually have progressive people. It doesn't even have to throw away its frontier roots, but the bigotry will stop.
Houston was a fine place to live in (lower crimes, friendly people, clean for a big city) when I was a kid in the 1990s. It wasn't all riff-raff compared to other cities, even with a population boom in the 70s and 80s. But crime is relatively high compared to major cities, some people feel distressed in service, and it is dirtier now (roads, billboards, more grime). I thought with the recent population boom due to a healthy economy, there would be more high-rises (come on, Houston does not get hit by earthquakes, and New York, the city of skyscrapers, gets hit by hurricanes, too) and public transportation and it would look more futuristic, you know, like Dubai, the city that thrived overnight. But it may have a long way to go if the citizens do not really want progress (considering their attitudes toward red light cameras, new rail, high rises, etc). But at least we have the Houston Texans, better than the Dallas Cowboys, ha. And museums are actually pretty good. NASA's there. Discovery Green looks good, and so does the Dynamo and the new stadium. Even the Rockets are doing better.
But can we get by without oil? Can we evolve into a futuristic, energetic city or will it be a pit for East Texas provincial bums? Can Houston finally get international recognition (like NY, LA, SF), considering it has lots of people from other countries? Can we evolve? Can we accept new ideas from other regions rather than dismiss these people as "Yankees"? Can it be safe and livable as places like New York or even Toronto? It can happen, if they don't stick with the status quo since this town has potential. We need to stop tearing down old buildings for a crappy fast food joint. Enough fast food joints, bring in the healthy food! Enough McMansions, who needs a 3500 square foot and a school full of homogeneous people? I know living in the Loop is expensive, but it is worth a damn compared to the suburbs. Houston has potential, it "can do." But we must not be backward in thinking or have an angry impulse over constructive criticism, instead, we need to improve our city. Or else we could fall behind. This coming from a native Houstonian, and good luck to out-of-staters who hope to find their way in this idiosyncratic (but different from say San Francisco) city!
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